Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Yahya Ishaq: I will say the writing process was hard at the beginning because I had to undergo a rigorous self-apprenticeship, trying to study the English sonnet style, particularly the Shakespearean sonnet, which fascinated me. I honestly admit, for me Shakespeare’s sonnets became my muse when I was writing my own collection of sonnets. Most times, I would read his sonnets to derive some inspiration when I really needed it. I saw beauty in the rhymes and also the diction, I was in awe.
Beauty inspires me, I deeply feel that art or poetry has to be beautiful. Also, sometimes, I would just choose a theme and decide to write a poem about that particular theme. As time went on, the process of writing poetry became a lot more easy than it was for me at the beginning of my venture. I heavily revised the poems I’d written at the beginning because I realized my improvement.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Yahya Ishaq: I haven’t really thought about this, but I sometimes I see myself as an instrument of expression. Besides, nature is about expression. I try to express my thoughts and also the things I perceive around me whenever I write my poems. In this regard, I might be a voice to others. Maybe the moment they read my poems, they might perhaps have a feeling of their thoughts being expressed in my poems? If that is so, I would be glad. I would be contented that someone’s feelings are being represented or expressed in my poem. Poetry, as an art, is an expression of thoughts, objects or nature written in a peculiar style.
Konya Shamsrumi: If any of your poems could literarily save a person’s life, which poem would it be and can you describe the person whose life you think it would have saved?
Yahya Ishaq: I will choose Glory because I do think it will inspire those who have been strangled by circumstances beyond their control to remain hopeful and be defiant. In the present world where we are confronted with seemingly unending obstacles, one needs to believe that there will be light at the end of the dark tunnel no matter how bleak things may appear. We need a tremendous amount of faith to remain strong and hopeful in the face of trials and tribulations. Besides, Glory is also my favourite among all the fifty poems I have written to date because it is personal. I enjoy reciting it because it inspires me.
Rivers long, ocean wide, I will choose to cross,
To find the far distant land I seek
I hope my gain shall be weightier than my loss,
For my faith remains still, even when I am weak.
With my weary feet, I move forth through the steeps,
To reach the height of this pebbled mountain so high
Peak shrouded with haze as the dew drips
I shall climb in pain and resist all temptation to cry.
At the end of this dark course, comes light:
Out of pain, arise, an experience of victory
So I shall continue this journey with all might,
And pray this voyage becomes a tale of glory.
With awakened spirit, I chase this grace I am after,
Amidst cruel uncertainty, I shall not falter.
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Yahya Ishaq: Africa means a lot to me, but I will go with reality. Reality is what we see from time to time which provides us with the substance that enriches our art. Art is a representation of life, and in art you either create or you imitate. Our rich cultural diversity gives us the variety to choose which theme we want to express in our poetry. The things we experience around us helps in substantiating our craft. These elements, such as our norms and values, are mostly well portrayed in most of our literary works in order to educate the readers about some of these elements or composition of our societies.
We need to tell our own stories by ourselves in order to curb the growth of needless stereotypes ascribed to Africa. I think poetry as an art has experienced a remarkable resurgence among the present generation. More needs to be done to accommodate these new voices though. There are huge potentials here in Africa, for poetry and much else.
Konya Shamsrumi: Could you share with us one poem you’ve been most impressed or fascinated by? Tell us why and share favourite lines from it.
Yahya Ishaq: To this very moment, the poem that fascinates me the most is William Shakepeare’s Sonnet 55, written in the iambic pantemeter. I am moved by the riveting power of the diction used in every verse of this poem. The message, I think, that this sonnet conveys is that those who have made such a great impact are more assured of immortality in literature than in monuments, statues or marbles which will vanish as times goes on. Below is the last quatrain of the poem which also includes the last two rhyming couplets:
Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover’s eyes.
Yahya Ishaq holds a B.A in Archaeology and a Diploma in Civil Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is a literary enthusiast who has written an anthology of English sonnets titled ‘Mirror’ which is still unpublished. His hobbies are travelling, reading, and writing.